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Maintaining motivation for fitness

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Staying motivated is often the most difficult part of maintaining any aspect of a healthy lifestyle, including exercise. Even for women who have completed a cardiac rehab program after a heart diagnosis, keeping up the fitness habits they’ve learned in the program can be a challenge.

“We all go through periods where motivation is going to be high and then motivation is low,” says Mireille Landry, registered physiotherapist and exercise coordinator with the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Initiative at Women’s College Hospital. Staying on track – or getting back on track – can be easier with a few tips and tools.

“We find what helps in cardiac rehab is goal-setting: setting specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely goals – or SMART goals – can be a really important component in maintaining motivation,” Landry says. It’s the difference between having a vague intention to walk more often, and writing down your objective of increasing your walking time to five 30-minute walks per week by the end of next month.

“The second thing is, we really try to find out what the participants in our program are getting out of exercising, and what they want their maintenance program to look like,” Landry says.

For example, a woman who finds the social aspects of exercising a big motivator may want to look at classes at a community centre, or group walking programs. Another woman may look forward to exercising as a solo activity, and value the alone time.

However, there are some advantages to using the buddy system.

“We know that social support can be a very important component of long-term maintenance,” Landry explains. “When you know there’s a buddy depending on you to attend that exercise class or to go for a walk, you’re less likely to let them down and to not attend.”

Tracking your progress is also an important factor in long-term maintenance. In the cardiac rehab program, participants use exercise diaries or calendars to track the days and times they exercise. A calendar is also important for scheduling exercise.

“Make an exercise appointment with yourself that you consider just as important as a medical appointment – putting yourself first and taking the time to do that,” Landry says.

“Certainly motivation will have highs and lows,” she adds. “The important thing is to get back on the wagon, so to speak, so you can just keep going from there.”

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